We sat on the bed together, each of us leaning on the other; I brushed a hand down her arm, watched her skin peel and fizz in sun-burnt effervescence.
She nodded, cheek brushing my shoulder. "Not much longer."
I swallowed. "I'm sorry. I didn't-"
"I know." Her voice had a burr to it, and I tried not to think about why. I felt her move, looked down into her blue eyes. She smiled, pinched and wistful. "We have to stop meeting like this, though."
I smiled too, bitter and sweet and salt all at once. "...yeah."
"Love you, Tay."
I closed my eyes. The tears came out anyways.
"Love you, too, Ems." I didn't think about the words until it was too late; she didn't seem to mind, closing her eyes and resting against me.
I held her until she was gone.
I sat on the bed. Leaned back against the wall, eyes closed.
I was tired.
I was alone.
I didn't want to be, didn't have to be, but... I couldn't bring myself to call up another me into her mayfly life.
I couldn't say goodbye again.
The intercom popped, hissed softly as it activated. "Taylor? It's Miss Militia."
I swallowed. "Yeah?"
"Taylor, I have your things. Glasses, shoes, your clothes. Is it all right if I come in?"
I opened my eyes, looked up at the dark swell of the camera. Nodded wordlessly.
The cell door swung open and there she was, olive greens and reds and whites and blues bright in the cell light, bundled cloth in one hand and battered sneakers in the other.
She hesitated in the doorway, took a step towards me, then another; quicker than I realized, she was at the other end of the bed. I flinched, and she went still.
"I didn't mean to startle you, Taylor." She knelt, set my clothes on the bed, shoes on the floor.
"My glasses?" The words creaked out and I swallowed again. "Please?"
She reached into a pocket, drew out glinting glass and wire frames, set them on the bed, watched as I fumbled them open, put them on.
The world crystallized around me; soft blurs became sharper edges, seams on the metal walls sprang into existence, the gentle creases of laugh lines around her eyes, green as beach glass.
She didn't move as I grabbed my beanie. I pulled it on, felt tension leave my shoulders as warmth settled on my head.
I looked up as I picked up my sweatshirt, shook it open; found her eyes intent on me, giving me her full attention.
"If you want to talk..." Her eyes shift, search my expression. "I'm here."
My sweatshirt bunched in my fingers. "No." I closed my eyes, started to pull it over my head.
"...if you'd be more comfortable, I can see if one of the Wards-"
I pulled, forced my head through the neck of the sweatshirt and almost dislodged my hat. "I don't want to talk to you. I don't want to talk to a Ward." I reached up, tugged my beanie back into place. "I want to go home."
Her flag bandanna creased, and she was silent for a moment; I looked down at my hands, watched fingernails pick at a rough spot on one fingertip.
"Taylor... I understand that you're angry. You should... you're not the only person who got their powers from a bad situation." She paused. "You're not alone, Taylor. I want you to know that."
My insides twisted and I felt my lips press together. "I haven't been alone this last year." The words were tea and old knives in my mouth. "See how well that worked for me?"
We're both silent; with my glasses on, I can see the regret in her eyes.
"I want to go home. Please."
She nodded, slowly pushed herself to her feet. "I'll go see if your father-"
"No." My shoulders tensed, pulling up and in. "I don't. I don't want to go home with him. I don't want to see him."
It took maybe an hour for the PRT to find someone to drive me home.
I stood on my doorstep, fingered the keys in my pocket; I pulled them out, slotted my house key in the lock-
-and before I could turn it, my keys pulled out of my hand as the door opened and-
-and Dad's there, arms wrapping around me as he pulled me close.
The impact drove breath from my lungs and thought from my mind; I sucked in a breath, inhaled a faded curl of aftershave, and my head turned off as my arms went around him.
"Taylor..." he whispered, the word soaked in sorrow.
Maybe there were words after that one, but the only ones I could hear were this is what's best, little owl.
And it all comes back to me, dampened by fatigue, roaring into incandescence as I struggled in his embrace, pushed free-
He's looking down at me, and for a moment I hate the look in his eyes, soft and dewy and kind to where I feel guilty for hating what he's done to me.
He doesn't deserve this. He doesn't get to destroy my life and be the martyr.
He doesn't get me.
I pushed past him, knocked his hand off my shoulder and ignored him calling my name as I took the stairs staccato-step up to my room.
The door slammed behind me and I leaned against it, listening to Dad gavel-thump up the stairs behind me, the floorboards creaking as he approached my door.
I didn't respond, palms pressed against the door, fingers splayed.
"I know you hate me."
Five words and my eyes were stinging.
"And... I understand."
"It's okay. I'd hate myself too. If I were in your shoes."
Stop. My fingers curled to fists and I slid down to the floor as my knees gave way.
He said something else, but I wasn't paying attention, hunched over and letting his words wash over me and all I wanted was for him to stop.
I heard him shuffle in the hallway. Heard his footsteps as I walked away.
And all I could do is sit against the door and wish I wasn't-
Emma sprang into my mind, bright and smiling, but... she wasn't enough. She's not right for this, I wanted to feel small and dark and safe and-
An arm draped across my back, a hand on my shoulder pulled me into her embrace.
"Shh..." my mom whispered. "It'll be all right, little owl."